Fear of falling

Earlier in the week, we had some snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Most roads are actually fine, having either been sanded or rained on enough to melt anything that stuck.

The little connector segment I use to get from West Lake Sammamish (near Sunset Elementary) to Eastgate in Bellevue was pretty bad this morning. I should have realized something was amiss when I had a little wobble as I turned in the parking lot. About a hundred feet later, I had my first spill. It was one of those cases where I was losing directional control as I was just about to grab onto the nice, solid fence for balance.

Since I was on a tight schedule for a morning conference call, I rationalized that the most expedient way would still be taking the switchback portion (see left), even though it would be treacherous and I’d probably have to walk my bike up it. Once past that, I’d be fine.

The road is as steep as in the picture above. It was much more slippery thanks to a sheen of black ice. Paradoxically, the moss, which is the Raison d’ĂȘtre for the sign, was the best traction available. The bike wanted to slide out, but it was otherwise uneventful.

At the top, the road levels out as it parallels I-90. There aren’t any trees on the south side, so it gets what little sunlight is available this time of year. There wasn’t any ice on this section, so I started riding again. All was fine until I came around a shaded corner and hit another huge patch. I went down spectacularly.

Bikes are slippery when wetEven worse when icy

The thought process when this occurs is strange. First, there’s the reflex to try to stay upright by making counter-steering moves or slowing down (reducing side-to-side motion) or pedaling with less torque or leaning or something.

When it’s obvious this isn’t going to work, acceptance of the inevitable kicks in. I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve been able to “relax and tuck” inward during the fall, letting my more padded parts absorb the bulk of the impact energy. With my winter clothes on, my skin doesn’t get scruffed up, though I always end up with a trophy bruise.

Time slows down during the actual fall. The bike falls to the left. I initially landed on my shoulder. There’s an 180 degree spin as my mass overtakes the bike’s. The rider clears the bike, and lands on his butt. With it being so icy, I continued to slide for a few feet. My brain’s doing all sorts of wacky processing: I hear the birds singing over highway noise, I marvel at thousands of rotten blackberries still attached to their bushes, and I make sense of a result I got while running a problem in Weka.

Finally, time accelerates as I take stock of my situation: Is anything barreling towards me from any direction, meaning this would be a very good time to move out of the way? (no) Am I injured? (no) Is the bike okay? (yes) I was going to be content pushing it until the end of a trail, but was then passed by another cyclist asking if I was okay. With him ahead of me providing some advance warning of road conditions, I mounted up, took it slow, and got into work just as the conference call started. (I wonder what they’d say if they knew I was dressed like a bumble bee?)

I’m used to being less tense after riding. Today, I was impatient with everything and everyone at work. When I left, I was unsure whether there would be any lingering ice even though it’s warmer (40F) and has been drizzling on and off. I took it pretty slow until I made it past the school, where all this started.

I may be the only person in the area who is hoping for a Pineapple Express to cleanse the roads. (Update: As Kevin noted, I just want the roads cleansed.)

4 thoughts on “Fear of falling”

  1. I had my rear wheel kick out on me a few weeks ago. It left no marks on me, but the hip was sore for about a week.

  2. On Saturday I too had a wipeout on black ice-near Fish Hatchery Road and Tokul Creek. Generally the roads looked okay, but in that little hollow near the river the ice persisted. I was on my side before I could even think..”this is gonna hurt!”. One nice thing about the ice, though, is that it is so slippery it didn’t tear up my clothing! I did hobble around for a few days like an old man.

    But be careful what you ask for…a pineapple express would probably result in a lot of flooding of roads, particularly out here in the Snoqualmie Valley!

  3. For those of us a little farther East: Pineapple express?!?!??? I’m thinking that *doesn’t* come with hula girls. ’cause I could get behind hula girls.

  4. Woodstock: Pineapple Express is a storm system that pulls in moisture from the tropics. It usually features a lot of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures. It’s not really something one would “want,” per se, nor are hula girls included as part of the deal.

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